Filed under: Drug Politics
Not so long ago I was feeling fairly proud about Canada’s place in the world. The country was strongly against the war in Iraq, wedding bells were ringing for gays and lesbians, pot was about to finally be decriminalized, and Vancouver was leading the way toward saner drug policy with the Insite safer injection site and NAOMI, a heroin-maintenence project approved by the federal government.
Just over a year ago a minority of Canadian electors (yet enough to clearly win the election) voted to switch the Conservatives for the Liberals as the party running the federal government. Since the Conservatives have ruled the roost I’ve become more and more saddened watching them denegrate of Canada’s traditional honest-broker peacekeeping role in Afghanistan and Iraq, a DEA-style raid on a pot cafe in Vancouver and potential extradition of Marc Emery to the insatiable war-on-drug-users U.S. prison machinery, and a definate switch in emphasis from harm reduction initiatives to simple minded law and order approaches to drug policy.
The safer injection site has been a great success. I’ve used it and its a very user-friendly facility. Some 600 of us are using it daily, and in just the past 18 months some 336 people have been brough back from overdose because they were using its facilities. No doubt if they’d shot up some a back alley, or alone in some flea-infested skid row dump, as they used to, the chances are pretty darn good that they’d be another statistic.
But the project is a three year pilot project and its term runs out the September 12. Unless the federal government renews its exemption from federal drug laws which enables people to bring their dope to Insite to use safely, the safer injection site won’t be able to operate. So a whole lot of community people from all walks of life in Vancouver are struggling hard to keep it open.
One recent demonstration involved VANDU (Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users)and others planting 336 wooden crosses in a local park to draw attention to those who would have died in just the past year and a half if Insite wasn’t open 18 hours a day 7 days a week.
B.C. safe injection site supporters plant crosses
Safer Injection Site is Vancouvers safe place to shootup
Canadian Press Updated: Thu. Jul. 20 2006 11:45 PM ET
VANCOUVER — Supporters of Canada’s only safe injection site for intravenous heroin users erected 336 crosses at the edge of English Bay on Thursday to demonstrate how many lives might be lost if the site closes.
The number reflects the number of overdoses that occurred at the Insite facility in the Downtown Eastside between March 1, 2004 and August 30, 2005, said Gillian Maxwell of Insite For Community Safety.
None of the overdoses at the site resulted in a fatality.
“Insite has been very successful in saving lives. We want to illustrate that, to make it real for people by putting these crosses in the law here today, to show you how many peoples’ lives have been saved,” Maxwell said.
Health Canada is currently assessing the site to see whether it will renew the exemption that allows North America’s only safe injection site to operate legally.
The exemption expires Sept. 12.
“We want to tell the prime minister, that given this evidence, that if the doors close on Insite, many people will die as a consequence,” Maxwell said.
She said the site is a gateway for people to get into the health system so they can get help with their addictions.
The site, which opened in September 2003, is the first supervised injection facility in North America where drug users can inject their own drugs under the supervision of nurses.
Heroin user Darryl is one of those people trying to end the cycle of addiction.
“It’s been a good experience,” he said of his use of the safe injection site. “Two years ago, I overdosed. They saved my life, actually.”
For Susie Ruttan, Insite was the catalyst for her 24-year-old bipolar son to break away from his heroin habit. He had relapsed and went to Insite.
“He was really focused on his fix, of course, and then he looked up and in the bright lights of the mirror of Insite, he had this incredible epiphany. He saw his ravaged face and all the sores and how gaunt he looked.” Ruttan said.
He went to his mother’s house the same day and asked for help. “We got him on a plane to a treatment centre,” she said. “It was a very powerful experience for him.”
She wants Harper to approve the exemption’s extension.
“It could so easily be one of his kids,” she said.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has not committed one way or the other on keeping the facility open.
Earlier this week, a group of Australian parliamentarians called on Harper not to close the safe injection site for heroin addicts.
Harper has not committed on such a move but Health Canada officials must decide soon whether to extend the three-year exemption to Canada’s drug laws.
An assessment of the research results to date from the site are being reviewed, said a statement from Health Canada.
Proponents say they don’t understand why Harper isn’t committed to the facility that appears to have saved lives and slowed the spread of diseases such as HIV.
Harper told a news conference in May the Conservative government is still deciding on the fate of the site where addicts are allowed to shoot heroin or use other injection drugs under the supervision of health-care workers.
An application for the exemption to be extended was sent to Health Canada in the spring, said Vancouver Coastal Health spokeswoman Viviana Zanocco.
Insite averages between 600 and 650 visitors a day. It performs about 200 overdoses interventions a year, she said.
The site has the support of current and former mayors of Vancouver.
The city of Victoria is also working towards getting a Health Canada exemption to allow for a supervised drug option site.
The University of Victoria’s Centre for Addictions Research is preparing to conduct a six-month study to examine options for supervised drug use in Victoria.
Health officials say it’s a chance to make a significant dent in the number of users in the downtown core.
Since the election of the Conservatives Canada is receiving a brutal demonstration of how much difference an election can make. The U.S. election of Bush in 2000 provided four subsequent years of ugly demonstration as a war machine and police state revved up before a sombulent population. Yet, Bush was re-elected. And now he’s got a buddy in our Prime Minister (“I’m proud to have allies like Steve who understand the stakes of the 21st century,” said Bush.)
But what ya gonna do? No point in rolling over and surrendering. So, kudos to VANDU for its invitation to Prime Minister Harper to drop by and take a guided tour their turf and the user group’s willingness to open guerrilla safer injection sites if need be.
Oh geeezuzzzz, radio news reports that Harper and Bush are having a sit down at the White House this very second … My bad! I was just guilty of a thought crime… GuuaaaAWwww! … and things are only gonna get worse.
Nonetheless, if you’re not too jaded to send an email to Prime Minister Harper letting him know you’re a supporter of the safer injection site, just follow the links here
“Ah fuckkkit! Hey honey, is it fix time yet?”
“Does a pig snort and roll in shit?”
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